With 52 new ropeways servicing ski slopes, fairgrounds and theme parks, 2018 marks the fifth straight year of lift construction growth that began in 2014. All manufacturers did well this year and numbers were particularly strong in the Eastern United States and Canada. With North America’s first eight passenger chairlift, pioneering double loading gondolas, the first direct drives from two manufacturers and the first D-Line detachables, 2018 will be remembered as a pivotal year for North American lift building.
Forty three lifts were brand new this year while nine were relocated. Killington moved two lifts to new spots on the mountain, Doppelmayr relocated high speed quads at Whistler Blackcomb and Big Sky while Skytrac reinstalled Poma fixed grips at Catamount, New York and Spider Mountain, Texas.
Months ago I nicknamed 2018 the year of the gondola with a record ten new installations including combination chair/gondola lifts at Bromont, Quebec and Copper, Colorado. New gondolas sprouted coast to coast in both the United States and Canada in a year that won’t soon be repeated.
Bubble chairlift construction also surged with big installations this winter at Big Sky, Copper Mountain and Killington. The new American Flyer is the longest bubble lift in the world with 182 six place chairs set to carry skiers and snowboarders very soon. Copper, Winter Park and Big Sky’s new lifts are the first in North America with direct drives that cut gearboxes out of the equation for increased reliability.
A large pipe broke on Christmas Eve at Stratton Mountain Resort, sending a gush of water into the path of the mountain’s gondola. Videos circulating on social media show a few cabins bearing the brunt of the geyser and Stratton Mountain Resort released the following statement via yesterday’s snow report:
“At about 3:30 pm Christmas Eve, a break in a snowmaking pipe on Lower Standard sent water at a 45 degree angle toward the gondola. Snowmaking computers showed a drop in pressure and operators immediately began the process of shutting down the system. The operations team simultaneously stopped the lift, restarting it slowly to reposition the cabins. Approximately seven minutes later, the gondola made its way to the summit where guests disembarked. We are pleased to report that no one was injured in what was a scary episode for seven skiers and riders in two gondola cabins. The gondola is running as usual today and snowmaking operations continue using alternate pipes in the network.”
The Poma-built Stratton Mountain Gondola opened in 1988 and received 58 new Sigma Diamond cabins in 2014. I’m thankful the water line broke near the gondola and not under an open chairlift. Great job Stratton crews moving cabins out of harm’s way and getting the water stopped so quickly.
Silverton, Colorado – population 650 – is home to two ski areas with a grand total of two double chairlifts. The smaller of the two at just 16 acres, owned and operated by the town, is Kendall Mountain. Silverton recently commissioned SE Group to study possibilities for additional ski terrain and year round recreation. The viability assessment, released last month, is very intriguing.
Kendall Mountain Recreation Area’s current lift, installed in 2006, is a 1972 Poma double with a 1990 return terminal. The lift has a design capacity of 800 people per hour (pph), but currently operates at 760 pph. It rises only 263 vertical feet on a mountain that stretches some 3,500 feet above the top terminal. The setup reminds me of Whitetooth before Kicking Horse or Powder Springs pre-Revelstoke Mountain Resort. Both were modest community ski areas at the bases of large mountains transformed into destinations by private developers. Silverton isn’t currently considering anything on the scale of the new British Columbia resorts but the project could eventually yield Colorado’s third largest vertical drop in a place known for epic snowfall.
As part of its public outreach, the town held multiple community meetings to gain feedback over the past year. Top priorities residents came up with at a first brainstorming session were expanded lifts and terrain. SE Group identified excellent ski terrain on the central part of the mountain with a large quantity of terrain suitable for ability levels from novice up to advanced. Importantly, the mountain’s high elevation would provide desirable snow conditions without the need for snowmaking.
SE Group also notes there is potential for Silverton to rise in popularity as a ski destination, benefiting both Silverton Mountain and Kendall Mountain as well as nearby Purgatory Resort. The study concludes that “expanded skiing infrastructure on Kendall Mountain would benefit the existing Silverton Mountain Ski Area by providing a complimentary experience that would draw additional visitors to the area during the winter season.” Silverton currently offers guided lift and helicopter skiing for experts only.
Forty five years to the day since Chet Huntley welcomed the first skiers to Big Sky Resort, Boyne Resorts today debuted North America’s most technologically-advanced chairlift on Andesite Mountain. The eight pack is a bold but logical move for Michigan-based Boyne, which once pioneered the world’s first triple and quad chairlifts. Not only is Ramcharger 8 the first of its kind in North America, it’s also the first Doppelmayr D-Line eight place chairlift in the world.
“Doppelmayr and Boyne Resorts have been collaborating for over 40 years, and together have introduced many firsts to the ski industry,” said Stephen Kircher, President of Boyne Resorts at a mid-morning ceremony. “We are incredibly proud to bring the first eight-seat chairlift to North America, setting a new standard for lift technology in the world.”
Mark Bee, President of Doppelmayr USA, presented the Big Sky Resort team with a customary bell from Austria to celebrate. He also thanked the construction team, led by Jamie Kanzler, for a successful project delivered on schedule. “Without Jamie and his team, we wouldn’t be here today,” said Bee, noting the contract for this ambitious project was signed on March 5th. “Ramcharger 8 is the culmination of everything we have learned so far, and incorporates many firsts for the North American market; first eight-passenger chairlift, first direct drive motor, first locking restraint bar, first height-adjustable loading carpet, first high resolution video display, and the first of our newest generation detachable lifts,” he continued.
Just five years after it was set to close and liquidate, the remote but beautiful Manning Park Resort has some exciting news to share. The ski area will retire one of its two Murray-Latta chairlifts at the end of the winter, replacing the Orange chair with a brand new Doppelmayr quad.
The modern Alpen Star installation will transport 1,400 skiers per hour just under 1,100 vertical feet. More chairs can be added in the future to further increase capacity. Following the upgrade, there will only be four Murray-Latta lifts operational – three in British Columbia and one in Alberta. The now hundred year old machine company remains in business, just not the ski lift business. It built more than 20 chairlifts through the 1960s and ’70s in Western Canada and the United States.
Manning Park’s new chair will open in time for the 2019-20 season and become the resort’s first new lift in 49 years.